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What you need to know about sex and COVID-19

To help reduce the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, it's advised to practice social distancing and self-isolation if you or your partner exhibit symptoms. But what does than mean when it co...

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Updated 19 May 2020

COVID-19 is a serious disease and everyone should take the recommended preventive measures to minimize the risk of exposure and the spread of the virus. We all know this means cleaning hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough, and staying home when you are ill. 

But what about sex?

With many of us under lockdown and being made to stay at home, it’s not surprising that many of us are wondering what this means for our sex lives. To help, we’ve put together a handy guide of FAQ’s on sexual health and COVID-19 – which we will update as the situation evolves.

Can COVID-19 be sexually transmitted?

A recent study has confirmed a small number of cases where COVID-19 has been found in the semen of men who have had or are recovering from COVID-19. There is still no evidence to suggest that the virus can be sexually transmitted - further studies are being advised at this time to determine if COVID-19 can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. There is currently no evidence to indicate that COVID-19 can be found in vaginal fluid.

Having sex with others, including intimate touching and kissing, puts you at risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. 

Remember social distancing helps slow down the spread of the virus and in turn helps healthcare systems cope better.

How can I still have sex but protect myself from COVID-19?

The safest way to have sex, is sex with yourself! Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands or any sex toys before and after with soap and water.  

The next safest is sex with someone you live with. However, if you or your partner exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or generally feel unwell, it’s advised that you avoid any physical contact and self-isolate for 14 days. This means no sex, no intimate touching, and certainly no kissing.

If you are wanting to have sex with people outside of your household, you may want to consider having sex with as few partners as possible. If you usually meet your sex partners online, maybe consider not meeting in-person and make use of digital platforms.

If you do have sex, it is recommended that you wash before sex and after sex. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours and so it’s very important you wash before you touch your partner – paying extra attention to your hands! 

And remember sex means different things to different people and doesn’t always involve intercourse or touching. This could be a good opportunity to find new ways of enjoying one another or even yourself!

What about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

If you want to reduce the risk of a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, continue to use condoms. 

If you are already using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV, you should ensure to have a supply for ideally 30 days or more. 

For people living with HIV, the WHO is now recommending multi-month dispensing of three months or more of HIV medicines.

What about contraception?

If you’re not planning a pregnancy, use contraception, including condoms

If you are using short-acting contraceptive methods, such as the oral contraceptive pill, you should ideally have a supply for 30 days or more. 

With strained healthcare systems, it might be harder to obtain your regular contraception such as an implant or IUD. Where possible try and make arrangements with your healthcare provider to ensure continuity of your preferred method of contraception.

What if I require an abortion?

Unfortunately, in many countries abortion is not seen as an essential healthcare provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. This leaves hundreds of thousands of women and girls seeking safe abortion care over the next few months in life-threatening situations.

If you cannot currently seek abortion care services from your local healthcare provider, you can seek further advice from Women on Waves and Women Help Women.

People deserve access to safe abortion care at all times but providing timely care is especially important during a crisis. We urge governments around the world to act now by removing all restrictions on telemedicine for medical abortion to ensure those in need have access to safe abortion care wherever they are.

Watch: How medical abortion aka the abortion pill works